How one Hawaiian 'miracle house' survived the Lahaina wildfires

Credit: Getty Images

As images of the razed town of Lahaina in Maui are shared across the world, one house stands out among the charred rubble.

A house seemingly untouched by the deadly wildfires has gone viral on social media, and it has earned a special moniker - "the miracle house".

Some wondered if the image was photoshopped, or part of a wider conspiracy.

But the image is real - and the homeowners have since revealed that they recently completed renovations to the property that may have inadvertently saved it from the flames.

The couple that owns the house, Dora and Dudley Atwater Millikin, told the LA Times they recently replaced the 100-year-old property's asphalt roof with heavy-gauge metal.

They also cut back the foliage surrounding the property to reduce the risk of termites spreading to the house.

“It’s a 100% wood house so it’s not like we fireproofed it or anything,” Ms Atwater Millikin told the newspaper.

“We love old buildings, so we just wanted to honour the building. And we didn’t change the building in any way - we just restored it.”

She said if the asphalt roof was still on the property, it would have been ignited by the embers that were floating in the air. The fire may then have dropped down onto the foliage that would have fuelled the fire.

Roofs are a key factor when considering the flammability of a home, as they can provide a place for smouldering embers to land.

Often it is these embers that cause houses to catch fire instead of a wall of flames, meaning houses that are not necessarily near an inferno can be vulnerable.

The house also wasn't too close to neighbouring properties, saving it from the radiant heat emitted by other homes.

The aftermath of the Lahaina wildfire. Credit: AP

The couple were visiting family in Massachusetts when the wildfires began on the island.

The county called the couple to inform them that their home survived the fires after the town of Lahaina was razed.

Ms Atwater Millikin said she hopes to return as soon as possible to open the house up for neighbours who have lost their homes.

“Many people have died. So many people have lost everything, and we need to look out for each other and rebuild. Everybody needs to help rebuild.”

On Sunday, the death toll rose to 114 as investigators continued to search the scorched town. It is expected to rise further.

Maui County Mayor Richard Bissen said that around 850 people remain missing, a large decrease from the previous list of 2,000.

“Over 1,285 individuals have been located safe. We are both saddened and relieved about these numbers as we continue the recovery process. The number of identified will rise, and the number of missing may decrease,” he said.The mayor said that 27 victims have been identified and 11 families were notified of the losses. The FBI and the Maui County Medical Examiner and Coroner office are working together to identify the recovered remains.

Hawaii Governor Josh Green told CBS News that “an army of search and rescue teams” with 41 dogs have covered 85% of the impacted area.

US President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden are scheduled to visit Lahaina on Monday to survey the devastation and meet with survivors.

“I know how profoundly loss can impact a family and a community and I know nothing can replace the loss of life,” Biden said in a statement ahead of the trip.

“I will do everything in my power to help Maui recover and rebuild from this tragedy. And throughout our efforts, we are focused on respecting sacred lands, cultures, and traditions.”

Senator Brian Schatz said nearly 2,000 people remained without power and 10,000 were without telecom connectivity.

Hundreds of water pipes were also destroyed in the blaze, allowing toxic chemicals, metals and bacteria into the water lines. Residents have been urged not to filter their own tap water and instead drink bottled water.

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